behind the masque – the honeymoon ended quickly
First date to nuptials took only five months.
My memory during that time was permanently erased.
A random post-wedding photograph captured his clinched jaw and her sad face.
“Click” – my memory recorder abruptly switched on again. I inherited a new father.
Progressive Stages of Abuse: overt control and manipulation
Belittling and Critical Words –
The first morning following their honeymoon, I ran into hug my new father. I threw my arms around his neck, but the good morning hug felt strangely different. There was no sense of warmth, comfort or anticipated affection in his embrace. He abruptly dismissed me and turned toward the mirror. Since he was about to shave, I naturally thought we could talk. Only two questions into our first morning conversation, he abruptly yelled my mother’s name. His distorted pronunciation of her name sounded almost grotesque.
Mom instantly materialized as if she had somehow anticipated that something would occur. Ever so gently she placed her hands on my shoulders as she simultaneously slid her body in front of mine in a subtle, yet protective move. He glared at me and bellowed his indictment of my egregious infraction, “She is a neb-nose and you better do something with her!” This was the first of many unpleasant labels I would earn. What was my egregious infraction? Asking if his shaving cream was toothpaste, because it came in a tube. Yep, you read that correctly…
His venomous tone and caustic words instantly found their target, my tender child’s heart. I was paralyzed as disbelief, confusion and fear gripped me. Movement and thought ceased in that moment as I stared into his icy blue, contempt filled eyes. Finally, I could distinguish the increasing volume of a single word screaming in my brain, “Run!” Weeping the tears of heartbreak, I turned and raced toward my bedroom, but there was another who arrived ahead of me – Rejection. In my bedroom; alone, confused, and afraid the corrosive power of John’s remembered words repeatedly washed over me leaving in their wake distorted truth and an increasingly diminished self-esteem. Rejection had accomplished his initial poisonous agenda.
Distance muffled their continued yet brief exchange of harsh words, then John slammed the front door to punctuate his angry exit. Mom rushed into my bedroom and found me curled up in a ball, inconsolable as bitter tears rapidly filled, overflowed and filled again their eyelid borders. She scooped me into the fortress of her arms and held me tightly in the space over her heart while she whispered soothing Mom Words. Usually they were like a healing balm for the woes of childhood, however this time something was strangely different about her. I could hear it in her voice. It was the sound of desperation as she hoarsely offered frantic, yet feeble excuses to justify his deplorable behavior.
He isn’t a morning person. He’s focused on the workday. He isn’t used to little girls.
Mom needed me to believe her explanation, but I did not. Instead I emphatically shook my head and announced, ” ‘No Mommy, NO!’ There is something wrong with Daddy John’s heart.” Stunned, her sorrowful black eyes stared at her eldest tiny child in shock. She uttered no rebuttal or response of any kind. Her world was rapidly careening out of control and her four-year old daughter had recognized the truth before she was mentally willing to admit it. When Rejection finished his toxic visit that morning, I was left feeling misunderstood and unloved.
Now prepare your heart for the next insidious part. Even though I intrinsically knew there was something wrong with his heart, with repeated similar incidents, I erroneously formed the belief that I must somehow be partially culpable and thus deserving of his disdain. It is startling how quickly I believed the classic propaganda espoused by every abuser. The abuser abuses you, because it is your fault. I desperately wanted my substitute father to love me, so I would try harder to be good (good meaning perfect), then surely he would love me. Over time, Rejection would reaffirm and increase this debilitating dogma.
Can’t you just hear that annoying GPS Voice rapidly repeating the warning? “Recalculating Route. Recalculating Route. Execute a U-turn as soon as possible. Dangerous conditions ahead.”
A House Isn’t Always A Home –
Our new house was enveloped in a flux of activity in preparation for the arrival of my step brothers. During this initial time of transition, John decided Patches should temporarily stay elsewhere until everybody was settled into their new life. So, Patches was granted an extended stay cation at my grandparent’s home, replete with an abundance of doggie spoiling.
Once the preparations were completed, the boys arrived at the front door of Miserable House carrying their boxes filled with unhappiness, heartbreak and a few personal belongings. When they crossed the threshold that day, the Welcome Mat must have tormented them. The reality was that they entered an unknown world of non-loved ones. Once upon a time they were two happy little boys now transformed by decisions beyond their control into Angry Older Brother and Sad Younger Brother. Angry Older Brother didn’t want a new family, home or school. Sad Younger Brother cried himself sick each day begging for his “real mommy”.
We never became a loving, blended family. Instead we were merely occupants coexisting in a house while enduring different levels of ongoing emotional pain. A permanent cloud of sorrow settled over our house and all it’s inhabitants. Daily it proclaimed that misery lived behind our walls.
Eventually my stepbrothers would escape Miserable House after a few brief years, but that is a story for another blog.
The First Casualty – My Licorice Puppy
As unhappiness became our daily portion, I longed for the companionship and comfort that my licorice puppy brought me. It felt like she had been gone forever. Daily my conversations fixated on how wonderful it would be when she would be with us again. Oddly my enthusiastic and increasingly frequent Patches Conversations were actually Patches Monologues. Finally, one day in a moment of exasperation I asked the all important question, “Mom, when can we pick Patches up?” A dread filled sigh escaped her lips, as if she was expelling the woes of the world. “Wendy, I’m so sorry, but it’s better for Patches if we find her another home.” That little fifteen-word sentence shredded my heart. I protested and begged for answers, “Why? How? Please?” Her response sounded rehearsed and exactly like something – John would say.
The Twisted Sound of Manipulation – Patches might runaway or worse be hit by a car. You wouldn’t want that to happen, would you?
The Truth – Of course I wouldn’t want that to happen. But, my grandparents lived on a far busier street than we did. Patches was a known closet scaredy cat and she never even ventured down the driveway.
The Twisted Sound of Manipulation – Imagine how heartbroken Grandpa would be if (you) let something happen to Patches, because of your selfishness to keep her. You don’t want Grandpa to be sad, do you?
The Truth – The mere thought of my beloved Grandpa’s sadness over Patches was instantly unbearable. With tears running down my face, I quickly agreed to give her away, but first I desperately needed to talk with Grandpa. If I had to give Patches away, then I wanted him to have her. He loved her as I did. After all she was the principal player in a memory only he and I shared. Mom dialed his number. At the sound of his voice I began to cry uncontrollably.
Thus began an endless evil pattern; John would force Mom to implement his twisted desires and punishments. She became an unwilling – yet willing – mouthpiece of discipline in an attempt to minimize his constant threat of escalated cruelty if she disobeyed him. Mom would be the one to break my heart as she repeated the carefully rehearsed reasons I couldn’t own Patches any longer.
In order for John to maintain his sense of superiority, a demand of “proof” of our sole allegiance was routinely expected. Proof was achieved by forcing us to forfeit something or someone we cared about. For me it began with my licorice puppy, but it didn’t stop there. He would attempt to make that demand far into my adulthood.
The daily, nagging knowledge that something loved or treasured could be stripped away without cause or provocation was the birthplace of crippling, extreme anxiety in my life.
The depth of John’s appetite to control and manipulate increased rapidly in our new unchecked environment. It always involved the demented process of using fear of retribution to force others to do something contrary to their will, in order to minimize the consequences of incurring his displeasure. Rejection would now often visit with his best friend Fear.
Mom and her children were now trapped in an abusive relationship cycle whether she acknowledged it or not. Each of us were virtually harnessed and forced to daily endure a frightful, never-ending roller coaster ride filled with unpredictable, terror producing drops and turns. With each area of control Mom relinquished to John, he would demand greater control in another area. Nothing was off-limits. Will. Thoughts. Desires. Beliefs. Hobbies. Likes. Dislikes. Friends. Family.
Eventually after several years, Mom dared to ask herself The Question that would be the final deathblow to her shredded self-esteem. “What kind of a Mother am I ?” Her weighty bricks of guilt and condemnation would accumulate one bad decision at a time. Years later John would actually use this very logic against her to further cripple and humiliate her.
Abuse Truth –
The baton of control over your life is handed over to another person one bad decision at a time.
The power of “What If Fear” (second guessing and anticipating possible triggers) will cloud your judgment and paralyze your ability to make healthy decisions.
The abuser masterfully orchestrates a chaotic home environment destroying any sense of safety and acceptance.
An unsettled environment inhibits the victim from accurately perceiving that manipulation and control are occurring.
My Random Partial List –
I love Mexican hot chocolate. I love art museums. I love a thought provoking book. I love God.
Sharing Something Lovely –
Watching a small child experience the simplicity of life is instantly enlightening, yet wonderfully challenging.
I am routinely humbled and moved by how differently Littles engage life. They experience everything with complete joyous abandon, immersed in the moment and innocently free from the complications of concern or fear. I guess you could say they experience “the now” to the fullest, impervious to the future.
Have you ever watched a child collecting seashells along the ocean’s edge? They approach their search as more of a rescue mission. The shell-searching child embraces the (not one shell left behind) method, while their adult searchers adhere to the (select only the exceptional/worthy shell) method. What an intriguing contrast.
Bigs and Littles alike believe their selected shells are treasured finds. The drastic, wonderfully challenging contrast occurs in what criteria each uses during the shell quest. An adult will scan the shoreline watching as each wave deposits a new crop of potential choices toward the shore. Expertly scanning all shells prior to the next crashing wave, a single, perfect shell may be identified and plucked from its ocean home. If none are selected there is always the next wave of possibilities.
Then there are the wonderful searching Littles. Their chubby feet barely venture a single step before a gleeful squeal announces a seashell discovery. Radiating joy, they lovingly present their rescued treasure for adult approval and appreciation. Their ocean treasure is rarely without blemish. Often their selections are chipped, broken, encrusted in barnacles or void of color, yet these adult dismissed shells are their selected prizes. They will join the collection of others rescued and securely nestled in their bulging hands. Littles would never, ever dream of dropping or discarding a shell for a better one. Once their hands are full, pockets, adult hands and buckets are enlisted in order to continue their mission.
Now let’s be honest, I know you have thought as I have, “Oh, sweet baby, this shell isn’t truly special. It’s broken and (gulp – ugly).” Or perhaps your brain voice would say, “It’s not quite as pretty as maybe another one would be. Let’s keep searching, because we can find a better one.” Yet, when you shift your gaze from the unacceptable shell, and peer into the beaming eyes of a Little, an amazing thing occurs – your sight perspective radically changes. You instantly are struck by a wave of remorse that they still view beauty purely.
Every shell that journeyed across the ocean’s floor to arrive at their seashore destination, whether perfect or marred should be a chosen admired treasure. Oh that we would resurrect our child-like appreciation and understanding of true worth…
Until next time,